The Outer Banks Holiday Season

Outer Banks ChristmasDuring the off season, in that three to four month window from late fall to early spring, life on the Outer Banks returns to its roots. A bustling resort in the summer months, the winter months are much more akin to everyday life in small town America.

At no time of the year is that more apparent than during the holidays. Rituals that come alive during the Christmas and New Year holidays are steeped in heartwarming tradition. The spirit of the season is a relaxed and joyous time to spend with family and friends. It is also fast becoming a tradition for out of town visitors who rent large vacation homes, escaping hectic schedules to unwind with those they hold near and dear.

If you are one of these visitors or new to our area, here are a few timeless traditions we’d like to share:

Poulos Family Christmas Lights
W. Ocean Acres Dr., Kill Devil Hills, NC
In 2005, Al Roker from the Today Show arrived at the home of Jim and Ann Poulos as they received the honor of being voted the most decorated home for the holidays. The following year it was featured on HGTV’s “Over the Top Holiday” program. This family tradition is in its 32nd year, and it takes about twelve weeks for the Poulos family to fill their large yard with seasonal lights and decorations to show their festive spirit of this holiday season.

To arrive there, take Route 158 to Kill Devil Hills and turn west onto Ocean Acres Drive at Pigman’s Barbecue. When the pavement ends and the street becomes a dirt road, grab the first parking place you can find and walk just over the top of the hill to their residence. Christmas carols are playing, the hot chocolate is free and kids of every age will see Santa at every turn!

Elizabethan Gardens, 1411 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC
A remarkable replica of formal English Gardens, strolling throughout the 10-acre Elizabethan Gardens is a memorable experience any time of the year. It becomes a magical adventure during the holiday season when the gardens are illuminated by the twinkling lights from the trees and plants in search of an enchanting gingerbread house and the warmth of a roaring log fire. Open Wednesdays through Saturdays during the month of December and on Fridays and Saturdays in January, this is an outdoor tour that is subject to weather related cancellations. For your comfort, please dress according to the day’s temperature.

Manteo’s Christmas Tree LightingOBX Holiday Activities
300 Queen Elizabeth Avenue, Manteo, NC
If Norman Rockwell lived today, he would likely paint the Manteo tree lighting ceremony as a way to memorialize the Christmas spirit of small town America. The ceremony is held the first Friday after Thanksgiving at the old Dare County Courthouse, a classic early 20th century structure that now houses the Dare County Arts Council. This is a celebration that would warm the heart of the infamous grouch, Ebenezer Scrooge. This family-friendly event features the burning of a yuletide log while members of community churches hand out complimentary hot chocolate and Brunswick stew. Santa is joined by the Christmas music performed by school choirs, high school bands and performers from the Lost Colony who always stop in to lend their talents. The town’s annual Christmas Parade is held the following Saturday morning.

Duck Yuletide Celebration
1200 Duck Road, Duck, NC
A newer event that’s quickly finding its way into people’s hearts is the Yuletide Celebration at the Town Park in Duck. While most communities celebrate with the lighting of a majestic tree, the residents of the seaside town of Duck light a festive Crab Pot Christmas Tree on the Town Green. A full day of celebration leads up to the event, and in 2015 guests are treated to music by Just Playn’ Dixieland and carolers from the First Flight High School advanced chorus. Santa Claus has a busy schedule this time of year, so he is chauffeured in by a fire truck to greet waiting children. The celebration is held on December 5, 2015 from 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. Light treats are available from Duck businesses with donations accepted to benefit Outer Banks SPCA and Food for Thought. A list of items is on the website.


27th Annual Outer Banks Hotline Festival of TreesHoliday Bazaar, auction of spectacular decorated trees, live music, children’s train, Santa Claus with proceeds going to Outer Banks Hotline. December 3-5, 2015: Outer Banks Brewing Station, 600 S. Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC

A Dickens TalePresented by professional theatrical touring group, Bright Star Touring Theater, this retelling of the literary classic, A Christmas Carol, is a heartwarming favorite.
December 5th at 3:30 pm: Roanoke Island Festival Park, Manteo, NC

Whalehead Club Candlelight Christmas Tour A guided candlelight tour of the Whalehead Club as community choirs sing Christmas carols accompanied by a Steinway piano. Refreshments follow. December 5, 12 and 19th, 5:00 – 7:00pm: The Whalehead Club, 1100 Club Road, Corolla, NC

Breakfast with SantaEnjoy a buffet breakfast with Santa with proceeds going to the Women’s Club Angel Gift Fund providing Christmas gifts for children.
December 6th from 9:00am – 1:00pm: Pamlico Jack’s Restaurant, 6708 S. Croatan Hwy, Nags Head, NC

Cape Hatteras Light Winter ClimbTypically closed during the winter months, the lighthouse opens on this day to offer a free climb of the iconic Cape Hatteras Light.
December 12, 10:00 am – 2:00 pm: 46379 Lighthouse Road, Buxton, NC

Christmas Past at Island FarmSt. Nicholas arrives in an ox-drawn wagon, wagon rides, make a bee’s wax candle and sample 19th century food. A poem reading of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” at 2:00 pm. December 12, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm: Island Farm, 1140 N. US Highway 64, Manteo, NC

16th Annual Candybomber Candy DropThe Berlin Candy Bomber, one of the original C54 aircraft, will fly over the airport dropping 1,000 miniature parachutes with a candy bar attached. Photos with Santa. December 13, 12:30 pm – 3:00 pm: Dare County Regional Airport, 410 Airport Road, Manteo, NC

112th Annual Celebration of the Wright Brothers First FlightDaylong annual celebration with a fly-by, renowned historians and speakers.
December 17, 9:30 am: Wright Brothers Monument, 1005 N. Croatan Highway, Kill Devil Hills, NC

By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea

By the Sea Outer BanksAh! What pleasant visions haunt me
As I gaze upon the sea!
All the old romantic legends,
All my dreams, come back to me.
-The Secret of the Sea by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

There is something extraordinary that occurs as we stand at the edge of a continent and contemplate the sea. A part of this connection is the seemingly endless horizon with occasional silhouettes of ships crossing the waters. We feel fortunate that the Outer Banks sand is soft and warm beneath our feet. The waves crest and roll to the shore with a rhythm that is soothing in its constancy.

Poets have long written about the sea and its mystical power over our emotions. What they intuitively expressed in words, we are now finding to be factual; it’s not in our imaginations that the sea soothes our fears and imparts a calming effect on us.

Or, perhaps the feelings evoked by the seashore are partially grounded in our imaginations. Science has been researching why being near the sea creates a sense of well-being. This field of research began about ten years ago, and although the results are tenuous, the connections they are finding are quite compelling.

In 2013 an environmental psychologist, Mathew White, was studying census data in England, and he noticed people living close to the sea had a significantly better sense of well-being than the rest of the country. This information encompassed all areas of the country and included all age groups. The obvious question arose, “Is there a clear physiological reason for these results?”

Some of the physical effects commonly noted may have a factual basis. People consistently state they sleep better by the sea. Several sources confirm a theory that coastal salt air contains abundant levels of healthy negative ions. Negative ions are responsible for two functions that create a more restful sleep; oxygen absorption by the body and balancing levels of serotonin, a body chemical that is associated with healthy sleep patterns, mood stabilization and stress reduction.

That stroll along the beach is certainly good for the heart, and nothing compares to walking in sand to tone muscles. But there may be even more to it. According to research done by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, even a brief walk on the beach can alter a bad mood and give people an emotional boost. The study, concluded in 2013, was done over a two year period and included 2,750 participants. From a scientific standpoint more studies will need to be done before a definitive conclusion can be reached, but results thus far are very suggestive that time spent at the seashore have positive effects on people’s overall wellbeing.

Is one beach location better than another? This is most likely a matter of personal choice. Those who flock to the Outer Banks likely do so, because our growth has been planned to allow for protection of large portions of our native seashore and wildlife. There is little question that spending time in a natural setting has overall benefits for the relaxation and rejuvenation people search for during their valuable vacation days.

The Dune Shops Kitty Hawk

Josephines Kitchen Kitty HawkOn the east side of Croatan Highway (the Bypass) in Kitty Hawk, the Dunes Shops is a strip mall that looks like a snapshot from the late 1960s or early 70s. It was the first Outer Banks strip mall, and it was a pretty big deal when it opened. But, time passes quickly, and until three to four years ago, it was fading with the signs of age.

At that time, Josephine Caggese and her husband, Cosmo, owners of Cosmo’s Pizza in the Marketplace in Southern Shores, took over management of the mall and opened Josephine’s Sicilian Kitchen, and the crowds followed. Josephine is an excellent chef and the food is outstanding. But along with the new restaurant, the new management gave the mall a much needed facelift.Poks_art_Kitty_Hawk

It still has the same blocky 1970’s shape. They didn’t change the architecture, but fresh paint, façade work and a new sign helped to make the Dunes Shops come alive again. On north the end, anchoring the mall is Josephine’s, which quickly gained favors amongst locals. They don’t take reservations, and it can get quite busy but the wait is worth it. It is family-style seating so there’s a good possibility you’ll end up comparing notes about your meal with welcoming strangers.

In the mid-section of the mall, there are two additional places to get a bite to eat. Pok’s Art is Chef Pok’s Asian Fusion restaurant. Pok, who was the chef at the Brewing Station for years, has a well-deserved reputation for finesse, quality and innovation, and the dishes we’ve sampled have been excellent. The seating is very limited; so it’s best to plan for takeout when you go.

Deja New Kitty HawkNext door, is Necla (pronounced Nayshla) Rader’s Outer Bean Juice and Java. Amazing coffee, nutritious smoothies, made from scratch soups made daily, creative salads, a savory selection of paninis – perfect for lunch and Necla is friendly, outgoing and an enjoyable conversationalist.

The remaining shops in the mall give it an eclectic Outer Banks feeling worth exploring. Donna Hollowell, who owns Deja New, loves to take the old and make it come alive again. Her skill at repurposing, and the ever changing inventory, make people drop in year round to see her unique finds and creations. What really makes Donna stand out, though, is her passion to explain her works to others. Don’t forget to ask about her year-round workshops that Donna hosts to share her craft.Amity Kitty Hawk

One other store retailer that really stands out is Made in the OBX. One visit will make you aware of the amazing artisans and artists living on the Outer Banks, and Made in the OBX is tapping into those skills. This location is definitely worth a look and pleasant conversation with owners Bill and Lorna Ernst.

Amity Boutique is a mellow, contemporary fashion store for women. There are two Amity stores on the Outer Banks—Islands by Amity in Duck and this Kitty Hawk location. One of the few businesses in the mall that predate the facelift and renovations, the atmosphere in the store is relaxed and welcoming.

The Dune Shops
Restaurants, Coffee, Boutiques
3701 N Croatan Highway
Kitty Hawk, NC 27949, NC

History of Outer Banks Fishermen

Old Outer Banks FishermanWhen English explorer Arthur Barlowe and his ship first made landfall on the Outer Banks, the crew welcomed the Native Americans who came to greet them with gifts. The Indians climbed back in their canoes to show the English the abundance of the sea.

Writing about his experience when he returned to England, Barlowe recorded, “ . . . assoone as hee was two bow shoot into the water, hee fell to fishing, and in lesse then halfe an houre, he had laden his boate as deepe as it could swimme. . . “ Translation: As soon as he was two bow shots into the water, he fell to fishing and in less than half an hour, he had laden his boat as deep as it could swim.

The bounty of the sea has been a part of the history of the Outer Banks since before the first European explorers set foot upon its shores, and from that abundance has come a rich history of earning a living from the sea that has continued through modern times. Intertwined with this history are smugglers, rumrunners and boat designers.

The earliest Outer Banks settlers lived a subsistence life—growing enough crops from an infertile soil and hunting and fishing to feed themselves. What life on the sea taught early fishermen was where the shoals, sandbars and hidden inlets lay, and there is little doubt they supplemented their income with smuggling.Fisherman Black and White

There was some commercial fishing, although it was very limited. Without refrigeration the fish would have been dried and salted before sale. Although the Outer Banks were considered a backwater, improvements in the U.S. transportation system after the Civil War made getting perishable products to market possible, and fishing as a way of life became viable.

However, the fishing boats of the time were not well suited for the conditions Outer Banks fishermen were encountering. Enter George Washington Creef—Roanoke Island resident, fisherman and designer of the Shad Boat that came into prominence in the late 19th century. With its high, sharp prow and rounded bottom with a wide body, the boat was steady in high seas and could carry a large load. The shad boat is the State Boat of North Carolina.

As an aside—building a shad boat required considerable skill, and that tradition of skilled boatbuilding has been handed down for over 125 years. It is an important part of the reason there is a thriving boatbuilding industry on the Outer Banks.

During Prohibition (1919-1933), the smuggling tradition was reignited when savvy Outer Banks sailors would scoot out to sea, pick up a load of rum and bring it to port before the Revenuers could get to them. Yet, it’s fishing that has remained a way of life into modern times.

On Hatteras Island, Hatteras Village and Avon were originally fishing towns, and both continue to support commercial fishing. When it was primarily a fishing village, Avon was named Kinakeet and a number of old time residents still refer to it that way.

Row Boat Black and WhiteThe largest Outer Banks fishing port and the center of the commercial fishing industry is Wanchese, located on the south end of Roanoke Island. With multiple fish houses and modern dock facilities, it is the home port for most of the local commercial fishermen.

Although there are a number of fishermen still plying the waters of the sounds and sea, it is a way of life that is becoming more difficult on the Outer Banks. Funds for dredging Oregon and Hatteras Inlets have been cut, and without dredging, the inlets shoal up and become difficult if not impossible to navigate. There are also regulatory pressures, although local commercial fishermen have shown a remarkable ability to adapt to changing regulations.

Even with the pressures on the local fleet, the daily catch is still significant. The volume is compelling enough that when it states “catch of the day” on a local menu, it probably is!

Outer Banks Wedding Venues

The Outer Banks has become one of the most popular wedding destinations in the United States and for many reasons; the main one being its beautiful natural setting. Perhaps our location is a bit remote, but the Outer Banks is centrally located on the east coast, and there are literally hundreds of professionals who reside in our area who specialize in creating memorable and personalized destination weddings.

Selecting a site to say your vows is an essential part of any wedding, and the Outer Banks offers many unique locations to accommodate your event. A tip for couples planning an outdoor ceremony is to always include an alternate indoor location in the event of unforeseen weather events.

Carolina Designs Wedding HomeEvent Homes
Carolina Designs represents over 65 homes that allow weddings and special events. These properties range in size from 5 bedroom homes to 22 bedroom estates. Many are oceanfront with private pools and feature extravagant indoor and outdoor amenities. View our Wedding and Special Event page for more information.

With world famous beaches from the tip of Ocracoke to the Virginia state line, the Outer Banks has a wide variety of beach locations from which to choose. Fresh coastal breezes and the lull of the surf is the perfect backdrop to create beautiful everlasting memories. Please note that most beach weddings are scheduled during our spring and fall months to avoid the summer heat. Weddings are often scheduled in the early evening when lighting is ideal for photographers.

National Park Service
Outer Banks beaches from South Nags Head to the Village of Ocracoke are part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and a permit is needed to have a wedding on CHNS land. This does not include Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge which occupies the northern part of Hatteras Island. Don’t let the $100 permit discourage you. It allows for a wedding anywhere on CHNS land, including historic sites, although some restrictions do apply.Currituck Lighthouse Matt Lusk

Whalehead Club
Not every waterfront wedding on the Outer Banks is on the oceanfront. Some of the most beautiful settings are on the soundside, especially for those dreaming of a sunset ceremony. One of the most sought-after wedding venues on the Outer Banks is the historic Whalehead Club. Its popularity stems from the picturesque beauty of a classically designed art deco estate located on beautifully manicured grounds framed by massive live oak trees and the Currituck Sound.

NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island
For anyone looking for a unique wedding setting, why not get married surrounded by fish? The aquarium is available for private parties and weddings are included on that list. The only caveat is it must be planned for after business hours. The ceremony can be held indoors surrounded by floor to ceiling tanks or on landscaped grounds with captivating views of the Roanoke Sound and a private pier that’s perfectly suitable for a sunset wedding.

Roanoke Island Festival ParkRoanoke Island Festival Park
If you’ve ever wanted to be married onstage, it will be difficult to top this waterfront venue. This peaceful location features an outdoor stage framed by the tranquil Shallowbag Bay as it opens into the Roanoke Sound. The site hosts outdoor concerts so the grounds can easily accommodate hundreds. It is also very convenient to a number of businesses that specialize in wedding parties. Serene beauty, location and size are just three reasons the RIFP is rising in popularity as an Outer Banks wedding venue.